Intel: Democrats condemn US broadcasting CEO’s Middle East purges after expanding office’s powers

al-monitor New US Agency for Global CEO Michael Pack, in a message to the agency's staff posted below this photograph on the agency's website, said that in addition to years of government service involving public broadcasting, he has "produced over 15 documentaries that have aired nationally on PBS, the most recent just last month."  Photo by US Agency for Global Media.

Jun 18, 2020

President Donald Trump’s new CEO of the US Agency for Global Media on Wednesday fired the heads of at least three of its outlets who collectively oversaw its Middle East and Iran coverage. The move sparked immediate condemnation from key Democrats despite their previous bipartisan support for expanding the powers of the CEO position.

US Agency for Global Media CEO Michael Pack, a conservative filmmaker, fired Middle East Broadcasting Network chief Alberto Fernandez and Radio Liberty/Radio Free Europe chief Jamie Fly, who also oversaw Radio Farda, the agency’s Persian-language programming. Pack also ousted Radio Free Asia chief Bay Fang.

Pack, who is under investigation for allegedly misusing funds at his nonprofit, assumed the office this month after the Senate confirmed him in a 53-38 party-line vote.

Why it matters: The top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Bob Menendez, D-N.J., said Pack is on a political mission to destroy the agency's "independence and undermine its historic role.”

House Foreign Affairs Chairman Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., also warned Pack against the firings, expressing fear that the agency's "role as an unbiased news organization is in jeopardy under his leadership” and adding that the agency “is not the Ministry of Information.”

“The law requires that our international broadcasting be independent, unbiased and targeted toward audiences around the world,” Engel said in a statement.

Nonetheless, Engel had supported former Chairman Ed Royce in the California Republican's successful bipartisan bid to reform the agency, which abolished what was formerly known as the Broadcasting Board of Governors and concentrated power within the hands of the CEO. Royce and other lawmakers were particularly concerned by what they viewed as a pro-Iran bias within the agency’s Persian-language news programming, which most recently fell under Fly’s purview under the name Radio Farda. More broadly, lawmakers argued that taxpayer-funded news media should advance US foreign policy interests. In 2016, President Barack Obama signed the reforms into law.

What’s next: Using his newly expanded powers as US Agency for Global Media CEO, Pack could have a lot more discretion when it comes to shaping news coverage from the Middle East Broadcasting Network and Radio Farda. It remains to be seen whom he will choose to replace Fernandez and Fly.

Know more: Read Congressional Correspondent Bryant Harris’ deep dive into lawmakers' concerns with the agency’s Iran coverage — part of the reason Congress reformed the agency and expanded the CEO’s powers.  

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